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What Is Mental Health?

“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”

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As an Educator, I must admit that it’s scary when I think of a new school year kicking off because things have not changed much since we are still in the eye of a pandemic. We are living in unprecedented times where our country is no longer normal. COVID-19 has changed how we do things. Fear has raised its ugly head and found a way to cause uncertainty about everything and everyone; therefore, it changes how we relate to one another. It is especially impacting kids, parents, teachers, frontline workers, etc. Nothing looks the same anymore. The new normal is abnormal.

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Fear has heightened many things. Some things aren’t new and have been happening in our country but because of the quarantine, we had more time to truly see what’s happening in our world because of camera phones and social media. People are being judged not by the content of their character, but by other factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, language, attire, religious beliefs, political stance, etc. When you ask any person what they expect from others, it’s simple…to be treated with dignity and respect; equality. Sometimes equality is not everyone getting the same thing but instead, everyone gets what he or she needs and deserves in order to be successful.

When we began our new world of online learning, it was very challenging for everyone (students, parents, and educators) but somehow we made it through the school year by the hairs of our chinny-chin-chin. Do you remember what story that’s from?

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Many schools will be returning to online learning but there are some students will be in the classroom in a face-to-face environment. So, how do we address the fears that are real and relevant for everyone, because even with online learning, there are not only changes, there are also comes challenges?

Here are just a few of those:
• Learning New Technology
• Parents Stepping In As Teachers
• Maintaining Student Engagement

I admitted this situation makes me somewhat fearful but I also have a sense of peace that everything will work out. Yet, I can only imagine how our kiddos must be feeling. Kids thrive on contact and it doesn’t matter if they’re in elementary, middle, or high schools…there’s something about being able to reach out and touch somebody’s hand, make this world a better place, if you can. (In my Diana Ross voice. OK, I digressed. I’m a fan what can I say?

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Mental Health and Online Learning

Online learning can be a fun experience filled with lots of great experiences; but as humans, we were meant to interact with one another and have companionship. When you take these things out of the schools, things change substantially. It’s one thing for kids to be on their computers playing video games and doing homework but now this has become a full school day with really no real interaction with peers. Therefore, ideas continue to be shaped to develop ways to ensure kids stay engaged while learning in a different setting.

Think about how we were ok with being in quarantine initially because we knew it was for our own safety to stay home but we had to adapt to a new way of doing things that were challenging and again scary. Parents were not only working from home but also had taken on the role of being a teacher; doing things that some might not have been familiar with. What about homes where there are multiple kids and one computer which mommy and/or daddy need to use as well as the kids? Do you see where this is leading? Fear and stress build up with how do we make it work? While this may not be applicable for every family, I assure you, adapting to a new environment of living caused some kind of stressors in some way.

Many students were excited about being graduates but they didn’t get the experience they had been waiting for (i.e. prom, graduation, celebrations, etc.). So, now that we’re back to where we left off, how do we make life make sense again for our kiddos? There is no normal so how do we live in this new abnormal world? I shared my thoughts with my administrators about the importance of mental health check-ins. Sometimes, just having the opportunity to talk and listen to each other about what we’re all experiencing helps us to see that we’re not alone in how we’re feeling. This is something that parents could do at home together as well. It builds strength in times of uncertainty and it provides a safe space to share truths.

Mental Health and Face-to-Face Learning

We must realize that at some point, the schools will reopen and we will need to get back in the classrooms. What frightens both parents and educators is the fact we know times have changed in so many ways. Even though schools are implementing safety precautions to help reduce the chances of spreading Covid-19, how do you stop kids from doing what they do naturally once school resumes on campuses?

We can’t overlook nor minimalize the obvious elephant in the room because that’s what it’s going to look like when we go back into the classrooms. Imagine an elephant in a classroom...

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and then keep that picture in your head and think of 20-25+ kids in the same room while the teacher tries to maintain 6-feet of “physical distance”

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Our classrooms were full before the virus and now we’re supposed to spread the kids out. Yeah, this gets a bit scary and makes you want to bite your nails...

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but don’t do that, it’s really not sanitary. There are other more positive alternatives to consider.

What Can We Do To Make A Difference?

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1. Actions
• Have you heard the phrase, “I can show you better than I can tell you?” Well that’s someone who wants to express their feelings by “their actions” instead of what they say. However, we must remember, all actions have consequences.
• Positive: We must remember that we have the power to uplift others simply by our expressions. With the need to wear masks and social (physical) distancing, we have to find a way to use our eyes or body language to bring happiness in a situation that can look hopeless to someone else.
• Negative: We mustn’t think we are above anyone where our actions cause a person to feel unimportant or insignificant. We must realize that we are all doing our best to make the best of an abnormal situation.

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2. Words
• What we say matters but even more important is how we say things. We need to be consciously aware of how we express ourselves with what we say.
• What we say can hurt someone intentionally or unintentionally. Be careful of how you express your frustrations because you can’t grab back words once they come out of your mouth.
• Our current climate has changed and what we say matters more than ever.
• Don’t be afraid to reach out to people to open up communication and ask questions. Many times, misunderstandings that take place are simply because we failed to communicate in the right way.

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3. Social Media
• Social media has become the place where everyone feels the freedom to say whatever he or she wants to without being considerate of how it may affect someone else. Social media is great for connecting but it can also be very divisive as well, so we must be sure it’s being used in the right way.
• A good rule of thumb to use when posting on social media is; would you be comfortable with your post regardless of who read it? Sounds simple right? Let’s see. Would you want your parents, children, employer, teacher, religious leader, etc. to read what you wrote? If there is any question in your thoughts that’s a sure sign to rethink before posting.

Same Kind of Different

If we all looked the same, talked the same, and did the same things the world would truly be a really boring place. How would we distinguish one person from another? I saw a movie called “Same Kind of Different As Me” and it was such an inspiring movie with some of the greatest lines that touched your very soul.

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I have a reminder on my wall that says, “I am not beautiful like you. I am beautiful like me.”

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I love this because it serves as a reminder that my exquisiteness is not determined by comparing myself to someone else. It also reminds me that I am just as valuable as the next person and the next person is just as valuable as me.

Let’s remember, the best way to get through these times is to extend GRACE to one another. According to Chrsitianity.com, “Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering, and brokenness. We live in a world of earning, deserving, and merit, and these result in judgment. That is why everyone wants and needs grace. Judgment kills. Only grace makes alive.”

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Diane Wilkes Tribitt is the Founder of D’Lyric Inspired, LLC, birthed from her own personal journey of finding forgiveness and healing from the wounds of her past. She is a survivor of domestic, emotional, and sexual abuse. Diane inspires and encourages others through books, music, stage plays, and advocating. Under D’Lyric, Diane began the “InHER Beauty™ Campaign” focused on building healthy self-esteem in young girls and women. In 2015, she produced her first stage play “Girls Night Out - A Twist of Faith” and in 2017 she produced her second stage play “Matters of the Heart”. Both productions focus on real life situations and received notable recognition.

Diane is also the Founder of the Houston Vitiligo Awareness Movement (HVAM), developed in 2016 to provide support to individuals and their families who are living with Vitiligo, an autoimmune disorder that causes a loss of pigment (color) typically in patches on a person’s skin. Diane was diagnosed with Vitiligo at the age of 9-years old. Vitiligo affects about 1% of the world’s population with no regard to age, ethnicity, or gender.

Diane was a featured model for an award-winning fashion photographer, Rick Guidotti, for his “Body as a Work of Art: More Than Skin Deep”. She was also a model for celebrity photographer, Ferrell Phelps, for his “The Skin You’re In” exhibit.

Diane is a Family Advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association. She also released her first book in December 2019, “My Journey To Just Be Me: Moments of Reflection With The ONE I Love” which is available via Amazon.

Diane holds a Bachelors degree in Business and Marketing. She is married to Bass Player & Producer, Patrick Tribitt. They have 6 adult children & 10 grandchildren.